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Spartans hand Wisconsin first loss on Hail Mary

Oct 23, 2011 - 7:03 AM East Lansing, MI (Sports Network) - With four seconds remaining, it appeared 15th-ranked Michigan State was headed to overtime against No. 4 Wisconsin, but the Spartans had a prayer answered on the final play and a wild celebration ensued in a 37-31 victory.

Michigan State, which erased a 14-point deficit, squandered the same margin in the fourth quarter as Wisconsin tied the game with 1:26 to play.

The Spartans converted two third downs en route to placing the ball at the Wisconsin 44. MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins backpedaled to his own 45-yard line, buying his receivers enough time to get down the field, before tossing a last-second Hail Mary. The ball bounced off B.J. Cunningham in the end zone and was hauled in at the one by Keith Nichol, who was ruled to have been stopped inches shy of the goal line.

Instant replay reversed the official's ruling after video showed Nichol powered his way into the end zone to hand Wisconsin its first loss.

"Wow. That is all about I can say," Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said. "Nichol makes the catch. Great play. That is why you play until the end of the game. You just keep playing. It's a play that everybody practices. Everybody practices that play. The last play, throw it up, tip it around in the end zone. You never know when it's going to come to fruition. By the grace of God it did."

Cousins threw for 290 yards on 22-of-31 efficiency and finished with three touchdown passes, including a 15-yard scoring strike to Keshawn Martin with just over four minutes gone in the final stanza. A two-point conversion put Michigan State (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten) ahead 31-17.

Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson, who threw two touchdown passes, ran for a 22-yard score with 8:10 left. He was picked off for the second time on the Badgers' next possession, but guided his squad on game-tying drive after Wisconsin's defense forced its second consecutive three-and-out.

The Badgers were facing a 3rd-and-9 from their own 38-yard line and Wilson hit Bradie Ewing for a 15-yard gain. The senior signal-caller then found Nick Toon for a 42-yard completion, setting up a first down at the MSU 15. Wilson hooked up with Jared Abbrederis for 13 yards before finding Montee Ball for the tying score.

"(I thought) we could still come back. We practice that kind of stuff in practice, in terms of being behind; we had to just keep fighting," Wilson said.

Early on, it appeared the Badgers (6-1, 2-1) were on their way to snapping a three-game slide at Spartan Stadium.

The game's opening drive culminated in a nine-yard TD pass from Wilson to Jacob Pedersen. Edwin Baker then fumbled on Michigan State's first offensive play, and Wisconsin turned the giveaway into a nine-yard TD run by Ball.

But the momentum shifted late in the first quarter when Trenton Robinson intercepted Wilson's pass. Though the Spartans were unable to get points, they pinned Wisconsin deep its own territory on a Mike Sadler punt.

Ball was wrapped up for a three-yard loss on first down before Wilson was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, resulting in a safety.

On the ensuing series, Martin took the ball on a double reverse and scampered 34 yards to the end zone.

The MSU defense had made two key plays. Now, it was time for its special teams unit to get involved.

Wisconsin's next drive stalled at the MSU 13 and Philip Welch came on to attempt a 30-yard field goal, but the kick was blocked.

The Spartans then grabbed the lead with 1:20 left in the first half. Cousins hit Cunningham over the middle on 4th-and-2, with Cunningham breaking free from two defenders and sprinting for a 35-yard touchdown.

Wisconsin failed to record a first down on its next possession and Kyler Elsworth blocked the punt, which Bennie Fowler recovered in the end zone, giving Michigan State a 23-14 lead at halftime.

A 33-yard Welch field goal accounted for all the scoring in the third quarter.

Game Notes

Michigan State extended its home winning streak to 12 games, its longest since 1964-66...Cunningham, who has caught at least one pass in 41 consecutive regular-season games, finished with 102 yards on six receptions...Wilson completed 14-of-21 throws for 223 yards, while Ball rushed 18 times for 115 yards...Wisconsin entered Saturday having given up just 58 points this season...The Badgers had won 13 straight regular-season games and nine Big Ten games in a row...Wilson has thrown at least one TD pass in 31 straight games, the longest active streak in the country...The home team has won each of the last seven meetings between Michigan State and Wisconsin...The Badgers haven't won in East Lansing since October 2002...Michigan State defensive end William Gholston served a one-game suspension Saturday for violating the Big Ten sportslike conduct agreement.